Keeping Afloat

Gatorade. Propel. Powerade. Body Armor. Vitamin Water. These are some names you may know. As the list of sports drinks continues to expand, so does the revenue spent. Estimated to be more than six and a half billion dollars spent on these beverages in the US market of 2021, sport drinks are a popular supplement for many who exercise. These beverages are designed to help athletes replace water, electrolytes and energy before, during or after training or competition. The right drink used for the right purposes at the right time can help to postpone fatigue and stabilize blood sugar.

Physical exercise may elicit high sweat rates potentially resulting in substantial water and electrolyte losses. There is significant variability of dehydration among people – men and women, slender to stocky, fit to deconditioned, even from different levels of exertion by the same individual. Circumstances that also increase water loss include higher ambient temperature and humidity as well as the exercise apparel worn. Adequate hydration prior to exercise is important. One should start with a “full tank” as opposed to catching up during or once exercise is completed. A simple hydration barometer is the color of your urine. A straw color or pale yellow tint usually indicates satisfactory hydration. Increasing intensity of yellow coloration reflects increasing levels of dehydration.

Hydration is better sustained throughout performance or exercise periods rather than waiting until your session is completed. The best balance is to minimize fluid loss during exertion by drinking small quantities of liquids at regular intervals during exercise. It is important to maintain less than 2% of body weight loss during exertion, as that is the level when significant electrolyte and carbohydrate deficit may start to become evident. The serious athlete may want to evaluate his hydration needs by calculating total body weight loss during a typical and maximal training effort. If the two percent limit is reached or surpassed, it is essential that the glucose and electrolyte losses be remedied routinely with sports drink rehydration after training and competition.

Gatorade, the original sport drink, was initially designed for the elite college athlete. A reasonable sport drink should be about six to eight percent carbs with a small amount of sodium and potassium. However not everyone may need sport drink rehydration. One estimate is that it may take up to ninety minutes of vigorous exercise or three hours of sustained lower level exertion to require carb and salt replacement. Plain water with a normal carbohydrate based meal may be adequate to replenish deficits post exertion. Beware of unnecessary calories in these drinks. The energy requirements of many of our exercise regimens may not warrant the caloric cost. A number of us, given an hour in the gym, on the court or out the door, may be adequately restored with just water alone.

Bradford Croft, DO

East Flagstaff Family Medicine